This is the kind of thing that is hard to say, because we’ve been taught that it’s not polite to brag, but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s taken me a few years to get here and a few children to make this possible, but on this Mother’s Day, the person I would like to thank is me.
I didn’t start out as a confident mother (and does anyone, really?). Quite the opposite, in fact. While I didn’t have postpartum depression, I knew I had some postpartum anxiety, which I ultimately sought therapy to treat. To paint a clearer picture, I spent the first two years of my kids’ lives Googling like a madwoman, reading and writing dozens of parenting articles, comparing the experts, talking to friends and worrying nonstop that I was going to screw them up.
All a fairly normal experience for a first-time parent, I have learned. But what is not so normal is entering this stage of life a dozen steps behind.
I still have a relationship with my mom, but she knows, and I know, and we both have talked about the fact that my childhood was far from ideal. My dad was and still is mentally ill. Both my parents were strict and hyper-religious, finding it difficult to authentically connect with us three kids. To make matters worse, my mom was also raised in a cold and religious environment, so that warm and fuzzy mother-daughter connection you see on TV was never to be.
Since then, my mom has made some big strides, but we both know we can’t make up for lost time. That is to say, there were plenty of years when I desperately needed a mother and did not have one who was attentive or plugged in to me. Having kids of my own brought this back in full force. Sure, I could spend years changing diapers (I’m good at that!), but what would happen when they were sad or lonely or upset? I’d been taught by my parents to stuff down all the unpleasant emotions, leaving them for me to clean up later as an adult.
Out of all three of my parents (a stepdad included) who had participated in my tumultuous childhood, I didn’t have one positive role model to choose from.
Once I figured out how ass-backward my parenting legacy had been, I got my ass into therapy right away. I cried, I grieved the childhood I never had, I reflected, I reframed the weird crap that had been modeled to me, and I started on a new path. For me. For my kids. And especially for me, because I finally deserved to live a safe and happy life where I felt like I mattered.
And a funny thing happened once I drew my line in the sand. Deciding that I mattered, deciding that I was going to invest in myself, deciding that I was good enough to be a good parent made it so much easier to parent my kids. I initially went to therapy because of my constant parenting anxiety and intrusive thoughts, and slowly but surely, that panicky feeling of always worrying that my kids were going to die began to dissipate to a smaller whisper instead of a deafening roar. Therapy also had the nice side effect of changing my perspective and giving me self-confidence, a concept that was totally new to a formerly “invisible” child like myself.
Of course, none of this happened overnight, because we’re not talking about Fuller House here. We’re talking about my messy and still often painful life. But I did this. I made these changes. It was all me when I realized I couldn’t repeat my parents’ mistakes.
I know I am hardly alone in this — there’s really no such thing as a perfect American family. Almost every one of us has been touched by mental illness, a disconnected parent or even darker forms of abuse. But what I’ve learned by putting one foot in front of the other is that while being “raised by wolves” may be a setback, it doesn’t have to be crippling. We might always feel like we’re a few steps behind the rest of the Instagram-worthy parents, but we’re real. We’re really doing this. And we’re not going to do the same things to our kids.
I’ve never had positive feelings about Mother’s Day before. It was always a confusing day fraught with family drama, where I didn’t fully understand the praise and the flowers and the speeches. While I appreciate how much work my mother has put into being an amazing grandma, this Mother’s Day, I finally have something to look forward to.
It’s my day, and I’m going to enjoy it because I did something I never thought I could do. Without anyone’s help, I figured out how to be a good mom.
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